For Dr. Ana Jiménez it was never too late to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor even when the odds were against her.
Jiménez, 38, was born in Morazán, El Salvador and at age of 6 moved to Los Ángeles with her family escaping the civil war of her native country.
Jiménez, who has a bachelor’s and master degree in nursing from California State University, Los Ángeles, worked for several years as a nurse practitioner before entering medical school at University of Kansas School of Medicine, in Kansas City in 2013 and making one of the hardest decision of her life.
Jiménez, who likes photography, hiking and running, is now one of the 16 new Internal Medicine residents who officially began their three-year residency training program at Saint Agnes Medical Center on June 25 as part of the About Saint Agnes Medical Center Graduate Medical Education (GME).
1. Your family migrated from El Salvador, how was that journey to a new country?
“My mom and dad and two sisters escape the masacre de El Mozote (El Mozote massacre) en El Salvador, it’s the civil war and we had to leave everything behind. My dad came to California and got a job as a gardener and earned enough money after a couple of years to send for us. And that is how originally came to California.”
“After a couple of year, five years, unfortunately we had to return to El Salvador due to my mom and dad separating and it was in El Salvador that we found out that we were illegal. So we had to stay over there and work to get our green card and eventually come back to the United States. We didn’t know we were illegal when we went back, or else we would have never left.”
2. When did you realized you wanted to work in the medical field?
“I was maybe 10 or 11 when I got a job in a pharmacy and I felt in love with medicine. Perhaps it was prior to that when I saw the poverty in my own country, with the kids dying from diarrhea, dysentery and all these other illnesses that I saw my friends die, young children, and I didn’t understand why. It was probably then when I got interested in medicine and then the job at the pharmacy reinforce that.”
3. How important was it to pursue a higher education in your family?
“When we returned to L.A., and my mom as a single mom and my two sisters, we made the promise that we were all going to study, graduate from high school, go to college and become someone valuable in society who would be very grateful for the opportunities in this country. And so we set up to do that. My youngest sister went to UCLA and became an attorney. My oldest sister became a teacher.”
4. What were some of the struggles you faced when you arrived to the U.S.?
“It was unfortunately that at age 13, I was raped while holding a job in downtown L.A at a jewelry store that paid $10 a day. My daughter as a result of that was the motivation from then on to continue my education to become a physician. It was a resident at Martin Luther King hospital when I delivered her that told me that it was possible for me for one day to become a doctor.”
5. As a teen mom, what were some of the challenges you encountered in trying to pursue the path of becoming a doctor?
“I continue to go to high school after having my daughter at age 14. With the poverty and all in L.A. I was able to enroll in a college, California State University were I told my advisor I wanted to be a doctor. He told me ‘you are female, you are a teen mom, and you don’t have the grades. You should go into nursing.’ And that is how I ended up listening to his advice as I was always taught from culture that you should listen to those of authority and so I set up to do nursing.”
6. Did you ever give up on your dream of being a doctor?
“There was always something missing. I got a bachelor’s in nursing and went to work for Kaiser Permanente in the labor and delivery maternity ward and I saw the roles of the physicians and nurse and I always wondered what would it be like to offer my patients more. I then went back to school to be a nurse practitioner because I thought that would be as close as possible as being a doctor.”
7. As a female, Latina doctor, how important was to have mentors and role models?
“I met one of my first mentors at Kaiser Permanente, a Jewish doctor, a OBGYN doctor that took a special interest on me as a father figure I never had, and motivated me to pursue medicine. I never believed in me since your first priority when you are poor is to get a job, not an education. But he believed in me and supported me with good advice.
“In Kansas, I had mentors as well. As you can see mentoring is a strong thing that as Hispanic I feel it is important to Hispanic community because most, many of us don’t have fathers figures or people that went to college to give us the motivation. So I feel very fortunate to have mentors everywhere I went and every step of the way in my education.”
8. At what point you decided it was time to apply to medical school?
“I continue to do the nurse practitioner training and meet several doctors, Hispanics doctors that influenced my decision to continue no matter what. Doctor Juan Silva, Dr. Arevalo, they worked in underserved communities in L.A. and I wanted to be like them. And I wanted to served my patients because I knew first hand what it was to have health insurance as a second no as a first thing in your mind. The first thing is to work and feed yourself and your family. After meeting with Dr. Silva and knowing that he went to medical school having about three kids himself, it motivated me to go to school medical school. So I applied. Dr. Silva, my mentor a Kaiser wrote my recommendation letters. Dr. Arevalo did as well. I applied to over 100 schools in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, etc. I was very fortunate to be accepted to the University of Kansas.”
9. As a Latina mother of three children, how hard was for you to go to medical school?
“I left my kids behind. It was the hardest thing from me to do as a Hispanic mom. But I knew that the two older were independent, they have finish high school, had moved on their own, but the little one was the hardest thing I ever did. And she understand now why that was necessary but it perhaps the hardest decision to do. My daughter was with my ex husband, with her dad. With the youngest one I always face time with her every night when I was in Kansas, I texted her very morning to wake her up to make sure she had everything. Tried to save money from loans to come visit her, when she was older she took the plane on her own to visit me.”
10. Now that you are in Fresno doing your residency, what are your future goals?
“In Kansas I volunteered in health fairs for underserved communities, always pursued the Hispanic population because we are mostly underserved and I made it a mission to comeback to California, reunite with my family and give back to the community. I meet my fiancé in Kansas. He is a dentist, he has similar values as mine and he does a lot of community service which is something I really, really make up a part of my life. Beside the job that I have, we have the commitment to give back to our community he is the same position and now we are here at San Agnes and I am very fortunate to have been selected as the first incoming class member of the residency program. My goal is to be a nephrologists (a medical doctor who specializes in kidneys). So it’s three years of internal medicine and a fellowship in nephrologists that is two to three years.”